NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #10 Phoenix Suns
This NBA offseason has been very eventful and the preseason is now in full swing. To help hoops junkies with the transition from the lull of summer back to competitive basketball, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 10th-ranked Phoenix Suns!
Last season, the Suns finished with a very impressive 48-34 record. However, they were edged out by the Dallas Mavericks for the last playoff spot in the uber-competitive Western Conference. Nobody saw that type of year coming from a rather young and inexperienced Suns squad. By the end of the year though, the NBA knew who the Suns were and what star GM Ryan McDonough had built out in Phoenix. Now that the NBA knows the Suns mean business, where will they go from here?
Projected Record: 46-36
Western Conference Rank: 5th
NBA Rank: 10th
Playoff Chances: 69.72%
Championship Chances: 3.15%
It may seem like our projections expect the Suns to regress this season by pegging them with two fewer wins and two more losses than last year. But, on the other hand, we expect a four-place jump for the Suns in the West. This reflects an even more balanced and competitive Western Conference - one in which our numbers expect the Suns to compete yet again.
With a near 70 percent chance of making the playoffs and over a 3 percent chance of winning it all, it's hard to argue that the Suns will disappoint and miss out on the playoffs for a second straight year. If there's anything that may contradict our metrics, it may be a number in itself. According to RealGM.com, the Suns have the eighth-youngest team in the NBA. Trailing only the Thunder, the Suns' average age of 25.6 is the second-youngest of all our projected playoff contenders. It will be interesting to see whether the Suns' youth crumbles under pressure or if it will shine like it did just a year ago.
To say the least, it was a very interesting offseason for the Phoenix Suns and their front office. From the Isaiah Thomas trade, to the Eric Bledsoe "saga," it's been an eventful summer in the desert. A unique series of moves has actually left a lot of us scratching our heads.
After trading for Thomas, re-signing Bledsoe and drafting Tyler Ennis out of Syracuse, the Phoenix backcourt seems to be an absolute logjam. There's a lot of talent to go around between these three young guards. And that's only three of them. The Suns also have the Dragic brothers - Zoran and Goran. Just about all of us NBA fanatics expect Goran to be locked into the backcourt -at either guard position - alongside whoever the Suns decide to pair with him. But we can't be for certain because the Suns have a plethora of backcourt talent.
Three Burning Questions
How will the Suns backcourt shake out?
Like I said, and I can't say enough, there's a situation going on in that Phoenix backcourt. That is the main question for this Suns team. There's a lot of different ways the Suns could go with the talent they have at their disposal. But, what combination should prove the best this year?
Our nERD metric - a stat that measures the value a player adds to his team over the course of the entire season - could help determine which backcourt duo will be most effective.
Assuming Tyler Ennis is the odd man out of a three-man rotation, due to his lack of experience, it comes down to the incumbents, Dragic and Bledsoe, and the newcomer, Thomas. After looking at each player's nERD, we are provided with what many would think is an unlikely winning combination of Isaiah Thomas (4.7) and Goran Dragic (9.7). The Thomas/Dragic backcourt produces a nERD of 14.4 while a Thomas/Bledsoe backcourt produces a nERD of 7.0 and a Bledsoe/Dragic backcourt produces a nERD of 12.0. Either way Dragic has got to be slated for the starting lineup and the bulk of the minutes. It's a tough debate for the second slot, whether it is a "point guard" or a "shooting guard." But the numbers favor Thomas.
What about conventions though?
According to our metrics, Thomas and Dragic would be the most effective backcourt. But, at what point do the numbers yield to conventional factors such as height, size, speed and style of play? Well, if Thomas and Dragic were the starters for the Suns, the backcourt would be pretty undersized at both positions. With Thomas at 5'9", 185 and Dragic at 6'3", 190, the Suns would very likely give up a lot of height, strength and weight to opposing guards.
On the other hand, say if the incumbents of Dragic and Bledsoe were paired together, they would pick up some more size with Bledsoe at 6'1", 195. So is there an easy answer to which combination should be the best? No way. Depending on what your preference is, it could be totally different from one person to another. We just have to wait and see how this shakes out, and which method will win out in the end.
Can Bledsoe live up to the free agency hype?
Eric Bledsoe clearly thought he was worth a lot of money this summer. Five years and an $80 million max deal to be exact. My fellow numberFire contributor, Russell Peddle, did a great job at breaking down whether or not Bledsoe was worth this asking price. Clearly the Suns didn't think he was worth it, and Bledsoe himself was flexible on his worth as he ended up signing for five years and $70 million. So, after all the drama between the two parties, will Bledsoe prove his worth, or even more?
Bledsoe possesses unquestionable talent. He is a firecracker of an offensive player and can put up points in bunches. Internally, there's almost nothing holding him back.
Bledsoe has to stay healthy! In his first 4 years in the league, Bledsoe has failed to play in more than 43 games in a season twice in his short career. He needs to stay healthy in order to display his wide array of talents on the court. But, E-Bled must also overcome another very odd restriction on his abilities in order to live up to all the hype.
He has to play enough minutes. With the aforementioned logjam at the guard positions, it might be a task for Bledsoe to rise up as the offensive star of the team. Both Dragic and Thomas played about 35 minutes per game last season while Bledsoe played about 32 per game. If Bledsoe manages to win the fight for playing time, he should provide the Suns with a bargain of an elite playmaker.
Can Markieff find success as the Suns stretch-four?
With Channing Frye out of the picture, it's going to be Markieff's time to shine. The Suns will be looking for a big man to fill the void left by Frye, especially in their high-powered offense. In 28 minutes per contest, Frye averaged over 11 points on 43% shooting from the floor and 37% from beyond the arc. He also grabbed 5 rebounds per game while serving primarily as the Phoenix power forward and stretch-four. Frye was very effective in doing so with a nERD of 1.5. But with Frye now in Orlando, it will be pretty tough for him to help the Suns offense with his rare shooting ability. Next man up.
Markieff Morris needs to be big for the Suns this year in order for them to find success in the competitive Western Conference. And he very well could be. He's proven it hasn't he? In fact, Morris doubled Frye's nERD with a 3.7 last year. And in 26 minutes per game, Morris outscored and outrebounded Frye. He posted almost 14 points per night on 48% from the floor and 31% from 3. He also added his six rebounds per game. This type of production from Morris should more than fill the void left by Frye. And if Morris can improve on his three point shot, Suns fans will soon be saying, "Channing Frye who?" Morris looks poised to thrive in his new role as a starter and a stretch-four.
Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch
PG, SG Eric Bledsoe (Yahoo O-Rank: 37)
Eric Bledsoe could prove to be the ultimate fantasy stud or dud for your fantasy team this year. As a point guard or shooting guard in your lineup, he could prove to be a very valuable pick, especially around number 37 overall. With the amount of points (17.7 per game) Bledsoe can put up in a hurry, he could surely career your team to a victory or two this year. What's even better? Bledsoe produces assists (5.5), rebounds (4.7) and even steals (1.6). That's the good - and here's the bad. Bledsoe averaged over three turnovers per game last season with the Suns. But, that's about it for the bad. If you can handle three to even six turnovers on any given night, Bledsoe could still produce at a high level. He could end up at the top of a shallow fantasy class of shooting guards with his shooting guard eligibility.
SG/SF Gerald Green (Yahoo O-Rank: 83)
I can't believe it, but it seems like Gerald Green is going to go highly overlooked in fantasy basketball this year. I don't know if the backcourt transactions may play a role in Green's ranking, but I can't see them affecting his production that much. Green, who is eligible both as a shooting guard and as a small forward, should see the bulk of his minutes at the small forward position. This should be to his advantage as he plays alongside the talents of Thomas, Bledsoe and Dragic. All three guards can make plays for others and distribute the basketball. This can only benefit a guy like Green as a scorer in a high-powered offense.
Just this past year, Green averaged nearly 16 points per game while shooting 40% from the three point line. If you're targeting points and threes, Green is a steal at his current ranking. On the other hand, if you happen to be punting assists or another category like rebounds, Green may not be your man. He's a scorer and a shooter, and that's pretty much it. If that's what you're looking for though in a later round, Green may be there to provide some good value.